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A Brief Look at the history of the Funeral Industry

September 24th, 2019 Johnstown Hearse Rental
History of Funerals

When people see hearses and funeral homes these days, they don’t think they’re unusual. But if you took someone from the U.S. who was alive in the 1800s and plopped them down into modern day Johnstown, PA, they’d feel like they were in a totally different, foreign world!

Pre-20th Century Funerals

Until the 20th Century, funerals were typically held in people’s homes, organized by families as well as neighbors. And the dead were typically buried on family property rather than in community cemeteries.

Funeral Industry Emergence

As the population of the U.S. grew and rural areas developed into towns and cities, the funeral industry emerged whereas funeral homes and local community cemeteries became the new norm. Indeed, funeral homes also served a greater purpose: to relieve families of dealing with logistical problems associated with the death of their loved one(s).


Remember the term “undertaker?” He (it was almost always a he back in the old days) “under took” responsibilities for funeral arrangements. Now, interestingly, undertakers were often furniture makers in the early days of the U.S. funeral industry. It was a natural extension of their business. They typically made coffins!

History of Embalming

How about embalming? That dates back to the ancient Egyptians. In the U.S., embalming started during the Civil War when bodies of dead soldiers needed to be preserved for their trip home. Embalming skills and undertaking combined to turn the funeral industry into a full-fledged industry/profession. 

Proliferation of Caskets

Fast forward to the 1950s. The industry had grown to the point where 700 or so companies were making coffins/caskets in the U.S. At the time, most were made of cloth-covered wood or cardboard. Soon, however, metal gained favor. While the market for making caskets generally consolidated down to a handful of viable companies in recent times, the trend for funeral homes was… to keep them “in the family.” Therefore, even now, most funeral homes are small, family-owned businesses, often passed down to successive generations. Cemeteries, meanwhile, may be owned and operated by families, private companies, and/or local municipalities. 

Cremation is King

Today, more and more people are getting cremated. Some families are opting for graveside services rather than having a casket for viewing at a funeral home. That said, for the most part, the funeral industry hasn’t changed “that much” in decades. 

If you’re in the funeral industry and need to make sure you have the right supplies in  your inventory, learn how the experts at Johnstown Hearse Rental & Funeral Supplies can help.

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